Australia has secretly flown 157 asylum-seekers to a detention camp on the Pacific island of Nauru, under the country’s hardline immigration policy.
157 ethnic Tamil men, women and children were flown on Friday night from the remote Curtin Detention Center in Western Australia state to an Australian-run immigration detention camp in Nauru.
Australia has once again violated its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention by refusing to provide the 157 people the opportunity to claim asylum and seek protection in Australia
Lawyers representing many of the asylum-seekers, who had challenged their treatment claiming false imprisonment, condemned the transfer.
“They have just spent a month in detention on the high seas locked in windowless rooms for at least 21 hours a day, not knowing where they were and living in constant fear,” Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre told the AFP news agency.
“The secret overnight transfer is a deliberate move to prevent legal scrutiny,” he added.
The Tamils, who had left the southeast Indian port of Pondicherry in an Indian-flagged ship in late June, were intercepted by an Australian customs vessel before arriving on the mainland.
Australia’s Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, said the group refused to meet with Indian consular officials, and refused to consider returning to India.
Morrison said many of the asylum-seekers were long-term residents of India and were safe from persecution.
“The 157 illegal maritime arrivals… have been transferred to Nauru overnight for offshore processing, following their decision to refuse to meet with Indian consular officials,” he said in a statement.
Amnesty International’s Australian chapter slammed the move for breaching the UN Refugee Convention
“Australia has once again violated its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention by refusing to provide the 157 people the opportunity to claim asylum and seek protection in Australia,” Amnesty’s refugee campaign coordinator Graeme McGregor said in a statement.
Conditions on Nauru have been questioned by rights groups, with Amnesty saying many asylum-seekers have been living in detention for almost a year without a decision on their refugee status.
Under Australia’s policy to stop people-smuggling boats, all asylum-seekers arriving by boat are sent to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement, even if they are found to be refugees.